Hindus makeup about 13 percent of the worlds population. It is a very localized religion, making up just over 80 percent of the population of India. Over 900,000,000 live in India. This makes up over 80 percent of all the Hindus in the world. Most of the other Hindus are in the countries surrounding India and in the countries of Northern South America, the West Indies. The majority of countries are less than 1 percent Hindu.
Hinduism boasts of being the world’s oldest religion. Hindu thought began to spread around 3000 BC and Hinduism as a religion began in about 2000 BC. Many Hindus would probably argue that the roots go all the way back to 6000 BC with certain Mantras. Holy writings began in the 1300s BC and continued off and on. Holy writings may still lie in the future of Hinduism.
Before I dive into some of the specific beliefs of Hinduism I’ll make a broad summary. Hinduism is not a single religion. There are many contradictory beliefs within Hinduism. Hinduism encompasses the tribal religions of India. There are certain points of agreement, but there is a lot of disagreement in core beliefs and variation in practices. The holy writings of Hinduism are not sufficient to divide between orthodox and unrthodox Hinduism. The holy writings do not need to be accepted as infallible, so the Hindu can pick and choose. The Hindu can worship and show devotion based on his preferred method and preferred god or gods.
You should be noticing already that the world view of Hinduism is hard to pin down. I will show you more of why that is true. First, who is God? In Christianity God is transcendent, creator, personal, ever present, monotheistic and Trinitarian. In Hinduism there are around 330,000,000 gods- that’s polytheism if I’ve ever heard of it! Yet Hinduism believes in 1 essence, 1 being 1 all in all, which is called Brahman. Brahman is an impersonal pantheistic force. Serving as the next level of representation of Brahman is the Hindu Trinity of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. Brahma (not the same as Brahman) is the creator, Shiva is the destroyer, and Vishnu is the preserver. Vishnu is the most popular of these 3. Vishnu came to earth as 10 different manifestations- from a fish to Krishna and (arguably) Buddha and Jesus.
Krishna became a very popular figure. He is depicted as a blue skinned person in Hindu art. He became somewhat of a Christ figure to Hindus and is the central figure in Hinduism’s most loved writing, the Bhagavad-Gita. Around the time that the Christian gospel would have been reaching India, Krishna began to take on similar roles as those of Jesus Christ. For the Hindu, Krishna became the one that you devote yourself to in love. Krishna became the one that gave Hindus grace and salvation. Krishna, however, did not do anything to merit salvation for the Hindus. In fact there are many blemishes on Krishna’s record. He had 16,000 wives and 108 “cowgirls”- which were also wives that were later deified. He had fits of violence also. Despite the defects in Krishna’s character, he is still considered to be the manifestation of god (Vishnu). Therefore god does not need to be a morally perfect being in Hinduism.
There are 4 main beliefs that are widely accepted by Hindus that I want to discuss- dharma, karma, maya, and reincarnation. Though most beliefs can vary greatly between different Hindus, these four seem to remain fairly consistent. These have a prominent place in the way that the Hindu will live their life. First, Dharma, which is the life force of the universe in which we are supposed to be aligned with. It involves the pursuit of ethical perfection by truth, righteousness, duty, law, and justice. Dharma involves life struggles. Some struggles are incidental and some of them are self inflicted. Second, karma, which is the belief that what goes around comes around. Karma is the motivation to live a morally pure life so that you don’t have pain come your way. Karma is the impersonal force or law that punishes or rewards for the deeds done in a previous life. I have another blog for more depth on this topic. This leads us to number 3, reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that you are in a cycle of birth and rebirth until you reach oneness with Brahman. This is also called samsara or transmigration. The fourth term is Maya. Maya is the belief that this world is made up only of illusion. The goal of the Hindu would be to overcome the illusion. They can overcome maya through meditation or yoga. In these acts of concentration the Hindu will focus on eliminating individuality and concentrating on oneness with Brahman in a pantheistic sense.
In Christianity the problem with man is that he is a sinner and a holy God must eliminate sin for the person to be in the presence of Holiness. In Hinduism the problem is ignorance. The ignorance can be due to Maya, the illusion. The ignorance can be due to not realizing the oneness with Brahman.
There is a fourfold path that is supposed to help the Hindu overcome their samsara, (birth and rebirth). They are duty, knowledge, meditation, and devotion. If the Hindu can act rightly, if they can know the right things, if they can calmly focus, and if they can show dedication to which ever type of god they choose, then they can achieve their goal.
Salvation in Hinduism is called moksha, which means liberation. The goal of the Hindu life is to stop the cycle rebirth. When the cycle is stopped the Hindu has reached oneness with Brahman, the impersonal force. They’d then lose personhood and individuality and become absorbed into Brahman.
It seems a bit contradictory that the Hindu would live their life striving in devotion and knowledge only to achieve an afterlife in which those things are eliminated. The Hindu needs to know that God is everywhere as they suppose, but God is also transcendent, which means He was capable of creating the world and creating us as individuals. They should know that God is holy and perfect and that there is no one like Him. They should know that God is personal and interested in each person as an individual. They need to know that sin is the problem, and that no Hindu god has ever done anything to resolve sin. They should know that Jesus has resolved sin. They should look at Jesus as more then a guru or good teacher. They need to look at him the same way he saw himself- as the way, the truth, and the life. Hinduism has a little history of desiring to be more personal with God. They have sought after grace, but they have sought Krishna, a false messiah. Where is the love of Krishna and other Hindu deities? Was not the greatest love shown by the true Messiah, Jesus Christ? Grace and a restored relationship with God can fulfill the Hindus desire. This can’t be achieved through knowledge and rituals, meditations and devotion. It can only be achieved through the grace of God in accordance with our faith.